Nyakuon lost her 15-year-old son during their flight from the horrors in South Sudan. Here she is with two of her other four children and DRC's Shelter Officer. Photo: Danish Refugee Council

A Tiresome Flight to Safety

With more than 96,000 people, Nguenyyiel in Western Ethiopia is one of the camps for refugees fleeing the horrific civil war in South Sudan. Sarah and Nyakuon made the journey to safety - but with much hardship on their way.


Political turmoil and civil war has left the young nation of South Sudan in crisis. With a population of 12 million, over 2.1 people are internally displaced while 2.4 million have fled to neighboring countries in the region.

Ethiopia hosts the largest number of South Sudanese refugees with 17 per cent living in the Gambella Regional State. Multiple UN agencies and International Non-Governmental Organizations are working tirelessly to respond to the needs of the 428,928 refugees residing in the region by providing humanitarian assistance.

DRC with funding from ECHO has in the past year responded to the growing needs of refugees through the provision of emergency shelters for more than 15,000 and transitional shelters for 7,780 individuals, whose destinies and personal stories are similar to these two stories, recorded in Nguenyyiel refugee camp, which currently hosting 96,000 persons.

Sarah's story: Swam over river to save her children

Sarah, 34 years old, enjoyed a peaceful life with her four children in Nassir province of the Upper Nile State, South Sudan. In 2016, the conflict situation worsened leading to violence that wiped out her entire village. To save her life and that of her children, she decided to flee towards Ethiopian border which she had been advised as the only choice.

Sarah _Nguenyyiel _Camp

The journey was not easy. Sarah and her children (pictured above) had to walk for days without food and water. On arrival at the Burbiey border crossing, she was forced to pay cash for the boat to cross the river which she didn’t have. She then decided to leave her children and swim across the river to sell her belongings – a blanket and bed sheets in order to get some money to pay the boat owner, who would ferry her children across.

Relief following tragedy

On crossing to the other side on the Ethiopia border, their struggle to survive continued as they did not have any food. She had to venture deep into the forest, walk through swampy and dangerous routes collecting firewood which she sold to buy food for her children.

Eventually, she arrived at the Pagak entry point, a temporary reception and registration center, where she registered herself and her family. In September 2016, she was relocated to Nguenyyiel refugee camp where DRC provided an emergency shelter and other Non-Food Items from UNHCR and ARRA. This assistance was much relief after a month of tragedy and uncertainty.

She stayed here for a year until November 2017 where she was moved into the transitional shelter built by DRC, allowing her to enjoy a more dignified life.

Sarah now looks forward to enroll her children into school, in the hopes of returning home to South Sudan once peace is restored.

Nyakuon's story: 15-year-old son shot and killed

“A peaceful South Sudan will still bring me a lot of happiness despite the fact that I lost two of my family members due to the war,” said Nyakuon, a 40-year-old woman, mother of five who used to live in Malakal city before her life turned around.

Nyakuon _Nguenyyiel _Camp (1)

Nyakuon with two of her four children and DRC's Shelter Officer.

A year ago, her village turned into a battlefield when armed troops ambushed and shot the villagers indiscriminately. She lost her husband who was killed by the soldiers.

With broken heart, she ran away with her children. They traveled on foot for twelve days reaching the small town Nassir where she found hundreds of other refugees fleeing to Ethiopia to seek asylum. However, tragedy struck again when her 15-year-old son was shot and killed while passing through dangerous territories.

Eating leaves to survive

With four children in tow, she braved the journey for another nine days eating leaves to survive. As soon as she arrived at Pagak entry point, DRC’s social workers received them and assigned to respective hangars. After a week, the registration was completed and she was relocated to Nguenyyiel refugee camp, being provided with emergency shelters immediately and other Non-Food Items.

After one year, Nyakuon will be provided with transitional shelter which is built by DRC where she feels more safe and secure with her family, unlike with the emergency shelters that are easily affected by wind, cold and floods during the rainy season. Her life journey continues in the camp with hope that one day peace may come for her country.